Wish I had time to write a better review. Let's just say this book saved my dissertation from disaster so many times. Siebers is truly forward-thinkinWish I had time to write a better review. Let's just say this book saved my dissertation from disaster so many times. Siebers is truly forward-thinking and revolutionary when it comes to thinking about the body. He's my #1 academic influence. I want to work with him after I graduate - IF I can muster enough courage to ask about a postdoc position....more
very interesting political sociology, but I had to return it to the library before I could finish. Shlapentokh dissects particular aspects of Americanvery interesting political sociology, but I had to return it to the library before I could finish. Shlapentokh dissects particular aspects of American society to show how our political and social relationships (between rulers/the ruled) resemble those from feudal times. Recommended if you're sick of hearing people make stupid claims about how the Enlightenment, American Revolution, capitalism, ect changed "everything."...more
This is a very fair critique of evolutionary psychology. This book is easy enough to understand but complex enough to challenge you. I'm fascinated byThis is a very fair critique of evolutionary psychology. This book is easy enough to understand but complex enough to challenge you. I'm fascinated by the discipline war evolutionary psych appears to be launching against the field of psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and how evolutionary psychologists choose to use evolutionary theories, sociobiology, and cognitive psych in their research. Much of the debate gets to the heart of the social construction and practice of science. I'll come back to this review later as I read more on this topic....more
North Korea makes me so sad. Its people are just trying to get on like everyone else, but a ruthless psychopath deprives them of the most basic, fundaNorth Korea makes me so sad. Its people are just trying to get on like everyone else, but a ruthless psychopath deprives them of the most basic, fundamental needs and desires. This memoir brought several realizations to my doorstep:
One, people look for small things to make them happy; the extravagant wealth of the rich is all excess. Small happiness arrives after food/shelter/clothing needs are satisfied. When you aren't worrying about your next meal, you can enjoy something as simple as collecting fish or dancing. These small freedoms allow us to feel human. In Yodok, the gulag prison that author Kang Chol-Hwan lived in for 10 years, people were searching for a small slice of that happiness through their basic needs. For Chol-Hwan it was the view of the mountains surrounding the prison, the peacefulness of the forests he labored in, and a bit of stolen corn cob in a soup at the end of the day. It's these kinds of insights that make the book worth reading.
Two, North Korea isn't a state--it's a political party. I suppose this is why it seems so "cult-like" to us from the outside: the entire edifice of the country moves in lockstep with one person's agenda. In America, we have an ideological spectrum that exists separately from political party. Also, the Democrats don't force me to sing songs about great leader John F. Kennedy and the Republicans don't force me to get ultrasounds against my will (oh wait...hahahaha). In all seriousness, democracy is great because I can joke about such things without fearing for my life.
Similarly, North Korea isn't a state--it's one large prison. Chol-Hwan's insights on the famine of the 90's (which he did not experience) lead the reader to this conclusion. I thought of Chol-Hwan as a prisoner whose release into wider North Korean society would at least give him a modicum of freedom. Not so for him, and not so for those subjected to famine after he left the country.
Unfortunately this book suffers from some paradoxical marketing. The byline on the cover says "The terrifying memoir of life in North Korea that our nation's leaders want you to read." I bristle at that suggestion, actually. Here I am reading a book about a life under totalitarian rule, and another group of rulers (the American power elite) want me to do something for them? No thanks. It's almost as if our nation's leaders are saying "Just be happy with what you have here and shut the hell up." If anything this book has made me more skeptical of state power in all its forms.
While most of the book is written in a straight-forward style (almost too much so), what confused me, however, is President Bush's role as a character. Chol-Hwan had almost despaired in his human rights work because it seemed like America turned a blind eye to the North. He was emotionally relieved to find out that the president did "care." Here is what Bush did:
After reading The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Bush acted by writing a strongly worded letter to the international community, urging the world to withhold aid to the North as long as Jong-Il kept tinkering with nuclear material (old demand) AND throwing his citizens into concentration camps (new demand). As I understand it, this book is one reason why Bush's tenure has been more aggressive toward the North than any other presidency: he appeared to realize that nuclear testing wasn't the only concern.
Still, I can't shake the feeling that American leaders view human rights as secondary to, and separate from, their own political interests. Chol-Hwan says so himself about officialdom's tepid reaction to his own displacement: "From a human rights perspective, my case was shocking. Yet how many people really care about the fate of a refugee lost in China? Like every government in the world, the South Korean government acts on the basis of national interests. The way it handles refugee matters is no exception. Yet, to consider the plight of refugees exclusively as a matter of national interest amounts to neglecting the rights of individuals."
Moreover, its unsettling how Bush can claim to "care" about the plight of the North while simultaneously creating a human rights disaster in Iraq. Bush isn't Kim Jong-Il. But because he's not a raging psychopath, I expect that he would understand this contradiction and show/act on some...regret? Ironically, the Aquariums of Pyongyang recounts a life so extremely deprived of freedom that it puts the American brand of of human rights abuses (interventionist bombing excursions, assassinations, torture, Guantanamo-style gulags, and other secret prisons the US has built) in perspective: we don't abuse our own citizens, only citizens of other countries. Moreover, we tolerate abusive dictators when its convenient for us. I suppose the only hope in all this mess is a North Korean Spring...?...more